There are eight baserunner arrangements a batter can find in front of him when he steps to the plate -- bases loaded, men on first and third, man on second, etc. When a batter happens to make contact so perfectly that he ends up with a homer, how many runs
There are eight baserunner arrangements a batter can find in front of him when he steps to the plate -- bases loaded, men on first and third, man on second, etc. When a batter happens to make contact so perfectly that he ends up with a homer, how many runs come home along with him is completely out of his control, governed by the situation his teammates left him when he arrived to hit. Given that, the distribution of runs scoring on homers shouldn't have much consistency.
But then along comes Marwin Gonzalez. Since making his way to the big leagues in 2012, the Astros utility man has hit 24 home runs, including 12 in 120 games last year. And every single one of them has been a solo shot.
No other hitter in the history of baseball has tallied more than 11 Major League home runs without bringing someone else in with him. Todd Dunwoody, the second-place finisher in this strange statistic, spent more than 400 of his 986 career plate appearances as a leadoff man, which partially explains his presence, but Gonzalez has started just three games atop the lineup in his career..
Only a dozen players have logged even a mere six roundtrippers without notching one with a runner on, and they include noted sluggers Jason Schmidt and Adam Wainwright -- who are noted only because they are pitchers.
Among players with more than 20 career homers, Gonzalez's closest competitor is Norichika Aoki, who has hit an identical 24 homers, 21 coming with the bases empty. Eric Young, a longtime leadoff man, has perhaps the most impressive track record of solo homer specialization. Of his 79 career homers, 68 of them (or 86.1 percent) came with no one on base. More than a quarter of those career home runs led off a game, when a solo home run was the only possibility.
The odds of this bizarre streak are so long that it's probably not worth trying to find an explanation, but it seems possible that something in Gonzalez's profile at least elevates his power chances when the bases are empty.
Gif: Marwin Gonzalez's home run
Is he being pitched differently with no one on?
With the bases empty, Gonzalez has seen 55.6 percent fastballs, according to PITCHf/x data. With runners on? A very similar 54.1 percent fastballs.
Small sample size, you cry!
This is certainly a case where that mantra applies. Even calling this a "streak" could be questioned, as Gonzalez hit a two-run homer earlier this Spring Training (along with three solo homers).
Does this even affect Gonzalez? Or his team?
Since 2012, the league average for RBIs per homer has been between 1.54 and 1.58 every season. Gonzalez, of course, has reaped precisely one RBI for each long ball. Had he adhered to the league average in each season, his homers would have accounted for about 37 runs instead of 24.
What of Gonzalez's clutch-ness? That is where this inquiry will stop. When it comes to Gonzalez's abilities, we can say, in no uncertain terms, that this streak means nothing.
Gonzalez is a player capable of fielding multiple infield positions and simultaneously posting double-digit power numbers, thus making him a useful commodity -- especially as a player under team control until at least 2019. The solo home run streak is just a fun fact, and probably a fleeting one at that.
But it happened.
This type of occurrence -- seemingly a glitch in the system -- is less a knock on Gonzalez than a reality check for our growing power of explanation. It's a reminder that sometimes we'll have to wait for the next plate appearance for the answer, or maybe the one after that. Since this is baseball, the numbers will probably make sense of things before we do.
Zach Crizer is a social media editor for MLB.com.